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Left Lane: Couples in Love

Boy meets girl...make beautiful music together

October 20, 2011
By RICH GIBSON , Times Leader

Here's three of the year's most highly-acclaimed independent releases from a trio of couples whose chemistry both in and out of the studio remains ongoing.

GILLIAN WELCH and longtime collaborator David Rawlings first met at the prestigious Berklee College of Music after checking out a student union bulletin board flier soliciting musicians for an country band audition.

It was later on to Nashville where Welch and Rawlings settled in and became integral residents of the country/folk community.

The Lane first took note of the couple some 15 years ago when they released their rookie CD, "Revival," which generated sterling reviews spanning the indie circuit.

"The Harrow & The Harvest" is yet another standout project recorded last February at Music City's Woodland Sound Studios.

"Yes, Tennessee figures rather prominently in the new songs," Welch declares. "The truth is, we absented ourselves from Nashville for a while, to escape the weight of home and studio and record label. But I think our thoughts turned back there with a newness and clarity I hadn't felt since I moved there almost 20 years ago."

The new disc features 10 co-writes in vintage Welch-Rawlings' mode.

"As a songwriting team, we are more seamless and fluid than ever before," Rawlings reasoned. "It's nearly impossible to unravel who wrote what word..what line..what sentiment."

Added Welch, "When Dave and I really get down to work, it's like we're in a lifeboat. like we're the only two people in the world. And it is very quiet. I think some of that quietness comes through on these recordings."

SARAH LEE GUTHRIE and husband Johnny Irion have released "Bright Examples" the couple's anticipated followup to their debut "Exploration," a record featured in the Lane in 2005.

In the interval, Guthrie, daughter of folk icon Arlo Guthrie, and Irion have raised two young daughters. They also hit the road for the "Guthrie Family Rides Again" tour which featured Arlo performing on acoustic guitar.

A change of scenery found the couple relocating from South Carolina to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, close to where Sarah Lee was raised.

Guthrie and Irion were first introduced in North Carolina through Black Crowes' frontman Chris Robinson. They later reunited in southern California and joined forces as a recording duo, pattering songs created by country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons.

"Sarah Lee and I tried to do a Gram song and we did it pretty good," Irion recalled. "So we decided to get married which eventually brought us to the south and our first project back in 2005."

As proud parents, Guthrie and Irion recorded a children's album "Go Waggaloo" followed by a live DVD entitled 'Folk Song.'

A return to the northeast re-energized the pair. "We're in a totally different space now," Guthrie confirmed. "We had started another album before we moved but it just wasn't right. This one is."

Irion wrote a majority of songs on the new disc while Guthrie authored a pair. The couple teamed with Jayhawks' singer/songwriter Gary Louris on another tune.

While Guthrie and Irion share vocals and guitars, Louris and co-founding Jayhawk Mark Olson, contribute backing vocals.

SO HOW exactly did Joy Williams and John Paul White come up with their moniker. "The Civil Wars?"

Harmonious discord, perhaps, but oh, so, sweet be thy sound.

The two met in 2008 on what Williams described as a "professional blind date." In fact, White and Williams were assembled in southern California in a room of 20 writers gathered to compose potential radio singles for a local country band.

"When I first heard John Paul singing, I somehow knew where he was heading musically," Williams recalls. "Basically, I was able to follow him without ever having met him before."

An ensuing date culminated in what has proven one of 2011's finest records, "Barton Hollow."

The couple caught a major break when one of the CD's songs, "Poison & Wine" was used as background music on the TV show Grey's Anatomy, prompting thousands of viewers to Google the mystery tune.

Months later, 'Barton Hollow' features 11 additional co-writes between White and Williams.

"A lot of people think we're married, and I actually think that's quite flattering," says White. "Because we don't want people to think we're (up here) acting and feigning the emotions that we write and sing about and show on stage."

Check out the duo's website to sample songs from the new disc.

Two weeks from tonight, (Nov. 3), the couple will perform in Columbus at the Lincoln Theatre.

Gibson may be reached at



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